Getting Slushy in Sicily: Lemon granita at Bar Roma in Sciacca
"Meet us in the Bar Roma, at the port," invited my new friends from the Planeta winery near the Sicilian city of Sciacca, on the southern side of the island. I walked past fish wholesalers, anchovy processors, naval supply shops, and a rather empty harbor (as most of the fleet was out fishing). When I spotted a plastic crate of split and squeezed lemons outside a door and a Granita di limone sign, I knew I was in the right place. Lemon granita (sweetened, watered-down juice that's frozen) is a seasonal thing, a refreshingly tart summer chill. Sicilians do it best.
A curtain of plastic beads hangs in the doorway of the Bar Roma, and the decor is no-frills. A refrigerated case holds six tubs of granita - all lemon. A machine churns in the back, manned by owner Aurelio Licata. Locals sit at tables that line the wall (or outside), and absolutely everyone is eating lemon granita, the house specialty. It's served in a glass tumbler, to be eaten with a tiny teaspoon, by itself or paired with a shiny, round, eggy-but-not-buttery, sweet roll that they call a brioche. Unless you're a fast eater, the granita will be half melted by the time you're three-quarters through it. Many regulars prefer their granita tucked into the roll, but I didn't feel I had the necessary skills to consume a slush-stuffed bun without making a mess in front of my new friends. We all had our brioche on the side.
I have a recipe for lemon granita, which you could try at home. Note: Lemons can range from 4- to 12-percent sugar. They vary in acid as well, so guessing the correct measure of sugar to add can be tricky. Play until you get the amount of pucker you prefer. All Sicilians agree that true granita di limone demands Sicilian lemons (other Italians may accept the use of Sorrento or Amalfi lemons). My recipe only requires that they be large. Bar Roma's granita is made in the style of eastern Sicily, which is churned as it freezes. Western Sicilians make a (larger grained) granita by putting the liquid in a freezer and stirring periodically until it turns slushy. I provide directions for making it by either method.
Bar Roma is open all day long and frequented by fisherman. Its granita is consumed beginning at 5:30 a.m. and ending at closing time, 9:00 p.m. Think lemon granita for breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner, or dessert.
Bar Roma, Lungomare C. Colombo, Sciacca; tel. 39-0925-21929.
Open every day.
August 27, 1999